Femicide: A Global Social Evil

On November 25, 2019, women attended a march in honour of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. From Jorge Saenz, https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2018/11/30/671872574/u-n-report-50-000-women-a-year-are-killed-by-intimate-partners-family-members

ANKUR CHHABRA

Violence Against Women

The United Nations (UN) defines violence against women and girls (VAW) as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life” [1]. Globally, one in three women experience physical and/or sexual violence by a partner or sexual violence by a non-partner [2]. The most extreme form of VAW on a continuum of violence and discrimination against women and girls is the intentional killing of women called  ‘femicide’ [3]. 

The term ‘femicide’ encompasses femicide perpetrated by men (current or former intimate partners); female-perpetrated femicide; and femicide involving family members as well [4]. Femicide constitutes an ongoing abuse in the home, threats or intimidation, sexual violence and/or situations where gender power imbalances arise out of resource disparities such as lower levels of education and income as well as women’s low social and economic status [3]. VAW is a major global public health concern and femicide, specifically, is a complex issue as aforementioned femicide categories are not always distinct and quite often overlap.

Femicide – A Global Epidemic

Femicide is a critical public health issue and the prevalence of femicide transcends geographic boundaries. The causes and consequences of femicide are an interplay of a myriad of social, economic, political, and cultural factors. One third of global femicide cases are reported to be committed by an intimate partner [5], with femicide rates ranging from 3.1 victims per 100,000 females in Africa, 1.6 in the Americas, 1.3 in Oceania, 0.9 in Asia and 0.7 in Europe [6].

In the United States, for instance, pregnant women are at an increased risk of intimate partner femicide [7,8]. Evidence from the United Kingdom suggests that femicide has a ‘collateral’ consequence – murder of children, witnesses, and perceived allies, including lawyers, relatives, family friends, and neighbours [9].

Further, the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada has received much national [10–12] and international attention [13]. Although most of such femicides could be categorized as intimate partner femicide, there is more to it than meets the eye. It is pertinent to understand the ‘intersectional’ element of such femicides – the combined role of intersecting identities of ‘Indigenous’ and ‘woman’ that might be leading to a higher risk factor in such femicides.  Furthermore, Europe [14,15], Australia [16], North America [17], and much of the Western countries [18,19] are experiencing a surge in the number of femicide cases, specifically related to the killing of females in the name of ‘honour’.

Honour’ and ‘Dowry’ related femicides – A Sociocultural Issue

‘Honour’-related femicide is usually addressed as ‘honour killing’ which involves “ the murder of a girl or woman resulting from an actual or assumed sexual or behavioural transgression (adultery, sexual intercourse, pregnancy outside marriage, or even for being raped)” [3]. This type of femicide is often seen to protect family reputation and to follow patriarchal and age-old religious traditions or cultural beliefs. The UN estimates that approximately 5,000 women and girls are murdered each year in ‘honour killings’ by members of their families [20]. Honour killings are widespread across the globe, but are especially common in the Middle East and South Asia [20].

Further, with respect to dowry-related femicides, despite laws in place [21], dowry-related disputes and deaths are still commonplace, especially in India. In  2018 alone, about 7,000 women (brides) were killed for dowry-related disputes [6]. These ‘bride killings’ occur around wedding time or during the initial years of the marriage, resulting from constant threats (disputes continuing for years) from the groom’s family, and torture (verbal abuse and/or physical harassment) in order to get a larger dowry. Such incidents include ‘bride burning’ (a form of domestic violence and usually reported as ‘kitchen accidents’) in which the bride ends up being burned to death. 

Ending Global Femicide

The global sociocultural menace of VAW and femicides needs to be addressed via stringent legislations (including enhanced surveillance, universal screening, and reporting of intimate partner violence and femicides) and devising global response systems (sensitization of police, media, social workers and healthcare professionals in the developing world as well as developed countries). That is, applying country-specific and culture-specific socio-ecological model (SEM) remedies in order to address this grave issue, holistically. SEM response [22] must strive to address the upstream causes and downstream consequences associated with femicides occurring at individual, family, community and wider society levels (including system and policy/environmental levels).

Conclusion

VAW and femicide have enormous adverse effects throughout global society. No cultural, social, or religious belief is above fundamental human rights. VAW and femicide is an attack on women’s human rights [23] and threatens to devalue the worth of women and treat them as less than human. The world needs to collectively address femicide and end such horrific acts of violence emanating from fragile masculine morality, resulting in targeted elimination of women. Femicide cannot become second nature to the current global culture. This can only be made possible when each one of us acknowledges the dignity of women and girls and the value of their very existence.

References

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